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DID YOU READ

40 Years of “Airport”: “Airplane!” (1980)

40 Years of “Airport”: “Airplane!” (1980) (photo)

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In 1970, one movie invented the modern disaster film. After grossing more than $100 million at the domestic box office (adjusted for inflation, it made more than any of the “Lord of the Rings”), it spawned three sequels that stretched through the entire decade. But this landmark series is now almost totally forgotten, long eclipsed by the film that so brilliantly spoofed the genre tropes it helped define. In honor of its 40th anniversary, we’re looking back at the “Airport” franchise this week, one film at a time. Today, “Airplane!” said brilliant spoofer of said genre tropes.

Airplane!
Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker

Nature of Air Emergency: The passengers of Trans American Flight 209 from Los Angeles had a choice for dinner: steak or fish. Those who chose steak now have another choice: find someone to land their plane after everyone who had the fish, including the pilots, takes ill with food poisoning or crash.

How Does It Hold Up? Aside from a couple of commercial parodies that mean nothing in 2010, pretty well. After watching all those real disaster movies, the thing that struck me rewatching this fake one is how little work the Zuckers and Abrahams had to do to turn drama into comedy. After you’ve watched “The Concorde… Airport ’79” it’s really not that big of a leap to “Airplane!” Actually of the two, “Airplane!” is the more realistic movie, and it involves an inflatable automatic pilot named Otto.

11122010_airplane2.jpgAfter spending a week with George Kennedy and the rest, “Airplane!” is like the first breath of fresh air after eighteen-and-a-half hours on the nonstop flight from Newark to Singapore. Aside from “The Concorde,” which seemed vaguely aware that it was a comedy disguised as an action drama, the “Airport”s are stuffy, stuffy movies. Charlton Heston doesn’t crack a single knowing joke as he rappels onto a moving plane and Jack Lemmon seems to think riding a lifeboat from the bottom of the ocean to the surface to set off a homing beacon in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle makes perfect sense. Even without the great gags like the “Who’s On First?”-esque pilot names (“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”), “Airplane!” would be hilarious just for pointing out the silliness of these disaster pictures. It encapsulates the entire “Airport” aesthetic in one perfect sight gag: Robert Stack dramatically punctuating a conversation by removing his sunglasses to reveal a second pair of sunglasses underneath. That’s “Airport” in a nutshell: bluster, machismo, and a total lack of self-awareness.

One of most surprising parts of this week was discovering just how good the first “Airport” was and how little its sequels took from it. The first film holds some genuine tension and human drama, and offers a pretty compelling look at the inner-workings of the air travel industry. The rest of the films are overblown exercises in excess. The arc of the series reminds me of the “Saw” franchise, which turned an original and complex morality tale into an excuse to build bigger and gorier human slaughterhouses. The formula goes something like this: Hollywood takes a fairly nuanced film, finds the most outrageous and sensational elements, and creates sequels showcasing only those parts. So a movie about an airport dealing with disaster begets movies about increasingly outrageous disasters.

11122010_airplane3.jpgAudiences may think they want bigger and better stunts and special effects, but the reason they were drawn to “Airport” were the rich human characters trying to endure and survive. On a technical level “Airplane 1975” and “Airport ’77” are far superior to “Airport,” but on an emotional level, they can’t hold a flare to it. Part of what makes “Airplane!” one of the best spoofs ever made is the fact that for all the wackiness and stupidity we identify with Ted Striker (Robert Hays) and Elaine (Julie Hagerty), and we care about whether they land that plane. They may be dumb, and their memories may be parodies of other movies, but Hays and Hagerty are so sweet and likable that we root for them in ways we never do for Heston or Lemmon.

Blustery and boring protagonists in humorless scenarios make the second through fourth “Airport”s joyless affairs, even with all the action and explosions. Obviously, an airplane disaster isn’t the most “fun” premise for an action movie, but there isn’t ever any sense of relief or pleasure when the planes land safely. That’s why “Airplane!” has endured. It’s fun to watch. We get pleasure when it lands safely, and we get more pleasure when it takes off again with Otto and his autopilot girlfriend at the helm.

Strange But True: According to IMDb, David Letterman auditioned for the role of Ted Striker.

Monday: “Airport”
Tuesday: “Airport 1975”
Wednesday: “Airport ’77”
Thursday: “The Concorde… Airport ’79”
Today: “Airplane!”

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.